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Updated on 15/04/2013

ANSES and environmental health

Keywords : ANSES

ANSES's role with regard to environmental health and safety mainly involves conducting scientific expert assessments of the risks linked to chemicals, micro-organisms and physical agents found in the water, air, soil, food and items or objects for everyday use. 

Thanks to its wide scope of expertise, ANSES has a comprehensive view of the various forms of exposure to which people are subjected due to their lifestyles and consumption habits, which allows it to take into account specific situations causing over-exposure (pollution peaks, for example) as well as sensitivities in specific population groups or at specific periods of life (pregnancy, foetal development, infants, the elderly, etc.).  A presentation of our missions.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), environmental health covers the aspects of human health, including quality of life, that are determined by physical, chemical, biological, social, psychosocial and aesthetic factors in our environment. It also addresses policies and practices for management, resolution, control and prevention of environmental factors that may affect the health of current and future generations.

This is a very broad definition that is interpreted in different ways by scientific expert appraisal bodies, research organisations, and risk management authorities.

The role of ANSES in the area of environmental health mainly involves scientific expert appraisal of risks associated with chemical substances, microorganisms or physical agents, present in our water, air, soil, and food, or in everyday consumer goods and products.

Given its wide scope of expertise, ANSES is able to develop an overall view of potential population exposure through lifestyle and consumption patterns, and to take into account situations of overexposure (pollution peaks for example), or the specific susceptibility of certain population groups or exposure at specific points in life, such as pregnancy, the foetal stage, infancy or old age.

This approach is particularly useful in the environmental health area because it enables the Agency to assess hazards, exposures and risks associated with different environments, including exposure specifically related to food or to the workplace. These aspects are developed elsewhere and are dealt with as separate topics. They are not discussed directly in this dossier.

 

Provide expert assessments on chemicals, their health effects and possible risks to human health

Concerns among the population about the health effects of chemicals are mirrored in the Agency via the expert appraisals it undertakes. By conducting these appraisals, ANSES provides the competent authorities with the expert information and scientific and technical support they need to evaluate the hazards of chemical substances and their potential risks to human health.

Within the framework of implementation of the European REACh (1) Regulation, ANSES proposes priorities to the respective supervisory ministries concerning the evaluation, authorisation, restriction, classification and labelling of chemical substances, and compiles dossiers for the substances identified, in support of the French competent authorities 

As part of the European CLP(2) Regulation, the Agency reviews dossiers on the classification, labelling and packaging of chemical products. 

ANSES is also tasked with assessing crop treatment products before and after they are placed on the market, determining maximum levels for residues in food, and evaluating biocides. In this role, the Agency specifically identifies the risks that the various products may pose for humans, animals and the environment.

Alongside these regulatory activities that take place before the substances are authorised, the Agency also assesses the risks associated with their presence in various environments, by integrating the question of the products’ uses and areas of application in its appraisal activities.

Developing knowledge on chemical substances, and the hazards they may pose, is a topic of major importance for the Agency and involves constant interactions between the areas of occupational health, environmental health, and food safety. Specifically, the objective is to establish a list of priority substances for expert appraisal, and to assess for each substance of interest:

  • potential hazards
  • uses
  • exposed populations
  • exposure levels
  • possible risks to human health
  • existing replacement products.

 

Establish reference values for chemical risks

As part of its activities to assess the health risks related to chemicals, the Agency is responsible for establishing toxicity reference values (TRVs). These values are toxicological indices set by international authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), or by leading national expert appraisal authorities. They are used to establish a relationship between exposure to a given toxic substance and an adverse effect, or a probability of an adverse effect for health. They enable the risk to human health to be characterised and are required for risk assessments. TRVs are used as a basis to determine limit values that take into account the routes (oral, inhalation, dermal) and duration of exposure. These limit values have different names: acceptable daily intake (ADI) when referring to daily life-long exposure via food, Indoor Air Quality Guidelines (IAQGs) when dealing with exposure by inhalation, and so on.

Each year, a list of priority substances is included in the Agency’s work programme, and undergoes collective expert appraisal with a view to establishing TRVs.

In the area of environmental health, ANSES is tasked with establishing IAQGs which are then used by the public authorities to adopt regulations, and to limit the health risks associated with chemicals in our indoor environments.

In this area, the Agency ensures scientific consistency of the various values that it proposes for each environment or the sectors where these values are to be applied.

 

Assess health risks to the population associated with the environment and consumer goods

In this area, the Agency’s activities focus primarily on:

  • water, with assessment of the risks associated with bathing waters (pools and spas, lake, river and sea swimming areas, etc.) and with new uses of water (reuse of rainwater, treated wastewater, and grey water), and drafting of reference guides specifically on examining dossiers on treatment processes for swimming pool water;
  • indoor and outdoor air quality, involving assessment of the risks related to specific substances (vegetation fires, particles, volatile organic compounds from construction materials, etc.) and establishment of guideline values;
  • food;
  • everyday consumer items and products, some of which undergo chemical or physical risk assessment.

 

Provide expertise on physical agents, their health effects and risks

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by mobile telecommunication devices and facilities, or by high-voltage power lines, noise, ultraviolet radiation, new 3D technologies, LEDs, and body scanners are all examples of agents found in our physical environment.

The long-term health effects and exposure data concerning some of these physical agents, specifically EMFs or mobile telecommunications, are poorly documented and considerable uncertainty remains. These topics warrant further research to better characterise the effects and population exposure.

In view of the controversial scientific debate surrounding these issues, the Agency integrates the opinions of the various stakeholders in its risk assessment activities, as well as human and social science perspectives, in order to better address the multiple expectations of society. To this end, ANSES set up a dialogue committee on radiofrequencies and health and on nanotechnologies and health, which help the Agency to have a clearer understanding of the expectations of civil society in these areas.

 

Provide expert assessments on emerging risks, or inadequately documented risks

Identifying emerging risks, or risks in areas currently undergoing research (nanomaterials, endocrine disruptors, very low frequency fields, environmental allergens and carcinogens), relies on the ability of monitoring systems to detect new pollutants or pathogens, changes in the state of known pollutants or pathogens, the emergence of new at-risk populations, and the presence of risks associated with new technologies. In most cases, these are areas of science and societal controversy because of the considerable uncertainty surrounding their effects on human health. They are also characterised by the scarcity of knowledge concerning exposure. As an example, there is often little or no data on the use of a number of chemicals in consumer products and items, which requires data collection studies to identify areas of use, thus making it possible to determine exposure patterns. Documenting hazards and exposure is essential to better characterise, manage and anticipate risks. All the scientific units, networks of specialists on the expert committees, and working groups contribute to this mission.

 

(1) Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH), establishing a European Chemicals Agency, amending Directive 1999/45/EC and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 793/93 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1488/94 as well as Council Directive 76/769/EEC and Commission Directives 91/155/EEC, 93/67/EEC, 93/105/EC and 2000/21/EC.  REACH: acronym for "Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of CHemicals".

(2) Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006. CLP: acronym for "Classification, Labelling, Packaging".